The United States is to export its crowd-grilling "less lethal" microwave cannon, the Silent Guardian - which has never been deployed by US forces due to worries over bad publicity - to an unnamed foreign ally.
Aviation Week reports today that executives from American arms megacorp Raytheon, makers of the famous yet seldom-used riot-roaster weapon, have disclosed a sale of four containerised Silent Guardians to "a US ally". The revelations were described as an "oops" by the corporate types, as the Pentagon had forbidden the firm to make the sale public.
The Silent Guardian works by playing a wide-angle beam of microwave energy on its targets - generally assumed to be something on the order of a hostile mob. The effect of the weapon on humans is to heat up the outer layers of human skin, causing a painful burning sensation and forcing people to disperse.
The idea of the microwave cannon is to offer US troops, perhaps heavily outnumbered by angry crowds overseas, an alternative to opening fire or being overrun/compelled to retreat. Weapons of this sort were formerly termed "non lethal", but this was objected to on the grounds that rubber bullets, clubs, tasers etc do sometimes leave their targets dead - even if perhaps from some indirect cause like falling down and hitting their heads. As a result, people tend to say "less lethal" now.
Perhaps bizarrely, however, the Silent Guardian in particular has attracted massive negative commentary from its earliest development days, and repeated requests for it from US commanders overseas have thus been denied - the Pentagon seemingly finding that it got less bad press by dealing with riots the old-fashioned way, by a mixture of blunt trauma and gunfire.
There were also some technical issues with earlier Silent Guardian versions mounted on Humvees, as these lacked the cooling and associated power to function in the heat of an Iraqi summer. This has been sorted out for some time, however, with upgraded versions supplied in containerised form suitable for deployment on a lorry.
The US government may find itself unable to deploy the microwave gun due to public pressure, then: but it appears that at least one foreign government has no such qualms. And, perhaps, that Raytheon is quite pleased to let the world know it has some customers at last for the Silent Guardian technology. ®